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Calling time on methyl bromide

Chinese and Indian regulations requiring logs and other forest products to be fumigated with methyl bromide have put producers in the crosshairs of their own environmental regulators. 

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China and India’s requirement that raw log imports be fumigated with methyl bromide is a major issue for forestry product producers. Ozone-depleting methyl bromide is banned globally under the Montreal Protocol for all purposes except for biosecurity and phytosanitary treatments. While some countries ban it altogether, it is still used extensively in markets that supply raw logs and some other forestry products to China and India, which require fumigation using methyl bromide for import access.


There is, however, growing unease over the use of the chemical at ports and log processing plants. In North Carolina, USA several companies have permits to fumigate logs in shipping containers using methyl bromide. However, an application by Malec Brothers Transport, LLC for a new operation has set off a storm of protest over the health risks this could represent, and politicians have responded with new restrictions.


Last month the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality (DAQ) announced a review of all current and proposed methyl bromide fumigation facilities had "made clear the need for specific state regulations for methyl bromide use".


Current facilities are allowed to vent containers after fumigation simply by opening the doors, discharging methyl bromide into the atmosphere. DAQ has decided that this will no longer be allowed and that it "intends to require permit holders to capture and control a a minimum of 90% of methyl bromide emissions.” Its own research "shows feasible capture and control technologies exist and should be included in all permit application."


In New Zealand, ports and fumigation companies that operate at ports are also under pressure to develop effective capture technologies or find an alternative. Some port workers have attributed health problems to exposure to methyl bromide, the use of which has risen steadily to over 600 tpa as NZ’s log exports to China have boomed.


The country’s Environmental Protection agency has ruled that no methyl bromide emissions following fumigation will be allowed beyond 2020, but there seems to be no method for achieving this. Some companies have been trying to develop capture technologies, but a forestry product producer group called “Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction” (STIMBR ) has determined that "no effective and sustainable recapture/destruction technologies are available for use on a commercial scale for log stacks and ships holds.”


After spending NZ$22M on R&D to try and find an alternative, STIMBR is now in the process of seeking regulatory approval from NZ authorities to use ethanedinitrile (EDN) as a fumigant for log and timber exports. Getting India and China onboard, however, will likely be much more difficult.


The US and Colombia recently tried through the WorldTrade Organization to get India to stop requiring methyl bromide fumigation on forestry products and some food products, but was unsuccessful.

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